Personal Academic Tutoring (Viable Systems Model view)

Many institutions are pushing ahead with learning analytics and in so doing are identifying different use cases. In this example, the development of a Personal Academic Tutoring dashboard that uses the digital footprint of students across the university systems as a proxy for engagement. From a technical perspective, once data is accessible (held in a data warehouse for example) it becomes a relatively straightforward proposition to produce different presentations or visualisations for whatever purpose is identified.

In this Viable Systems Model (VSM, Stafford Beer) inspired diagram I have tried to capture the high level relationships between the key processes, organisational structures and their relationship to the external environment (pink).

Central to the VSM is the concept of variety management as achieved through amplification and attenuation between the manger and the managed. I think that the part of the system within the dotted line is relatively healthy in this respect, however elsewhere the flow of information and instructions are unidirectional which does not provide for a balanced and thus healthy system.

The relationship between students and their tutors is by far and away the most important contributor to an engaged student, and great carer needs taking to ensure that it is cultivated in a thoughtful way, and not transformed into a ‘policing’ activity. As institutions come under increasing external pressures (financial and reputational), their priorities around progression rates and destinations of students become sharpened. However, pushing targets down from the top without adequate feedback loops risks incurring unexpected consequences.




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